UB's 'Destination College!' Boosts Higher Education for Buffalo's Urban Youth

By Adrian Finch

Release Date: February 25, 2011

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Center for Educational Collaboration continues its mission of giving Buffalo Public School students access to higher education with its latest $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, through the Higher Education Services Corporation, money that will help create a program that encourages underprivileged youth to consider attending college.

The new program -- Destination College! -- is a free, three-session program for 300 to 400 juniors in the Buffalo City School District who may have overlooked college as an option for their future. Through the program, students receive a mentor and a workbook that will walk them through the application and financial aid process for continuing their education beyond high school.

"Even if students don't go to a four-year college, they know the process [from this program] and how to maneuver around and find the pipelines for getting in," says Teresa Barrett, Center for Educational Collaboration (CEC) program manager for University Pathways.

"We're telling them that they need a higher education in order to be competitive. You need a trade or skill, and education is necessary. We see unemployment rates. We see the challenges. We need the children, or youth, to have access to this so it's not too late. We need to expose them now, and this is the program that can do it."

CEC realized the need for a program that encourages Buffalo youth to continue with their education, Barrett says, something they continually promote with their Pre-K-16 Initiative. The goal: "to increase the number of pre-K-12 students ready for and interested in college through the mobilization and coordination of diverse UB resources." CEC officials teamed up with Grace, Education, Mentoring, Spiritual development group (GEMS) and Simply College to create this outlet for students.

Barrett sees the large ratio between counselors and students, and teachers and students, as a problem in public schools. Students aren't given individualized attention because of the size of their classes, and therefore aren't informed or aware of the opportunities after high school. Destination College! will help fix this with a 1:6 coach-to-student ratio, providing what Barrett calls a "toolbox" to guide students the same way a counselor would.

Beginning Saturday, March 19, students and coaches will learn how to choose the right college, apply for financial aid and scholarships, minimize financial debt and get the support of family and friends during the application process.

The program has the advantage of timing: High school juniors need to start thinking now about standardized testing and become motivated now to apply to colleges for the fall. Destination College! puts students on the right path and gives them important timelines to follow, Barrett says.

"[The students] need to be self-driven, have to want to do it and be committed to do it." Barrett says. "The coaches are there to push them, but not spoon-feed them."

GEMS is reaching into Buffalo churches and community organizations to encourage students to enroll and coaches to volunteer for Destination College! Coaches will go through the training process with students. They will learn everything the students are learning, plus how to motivate youth and help them avoid obstacles when applying to college.

"We found that we have retired, mature adults in the community, specifically around faith-based communities, that want to reach out to the youth and are looking for an avenue," Barrett says. "With this program, they can align with the youth."

Barrett is surprised with Buffalo community members' willingness to volunteer and combine their resources to unite for the students.

"It's amazing because I'm not from Buffalo ... but I've been here for 13 years. I've worked in higher education for nine. I'm in the best job I've ever had because I've been able to wrap my arms around something like this and see the impact that it can make in the community. And it can -- it really can," Barrett says.

Although Destination College! is in its pilot phase, Barrett has high expectations that the program will be successful . She's received nothing but positive response from students, parents and the schools, Barrett says, and would like to see Destination College! enrollment double in size next year, even if CEC has to reach beyond Buffalo's borders for students.

Barrett explains that the College Access Challenge Program Grant does not guarantee the program's funding next year. To maintain Destination College!, CEC will need to look to other grants or funding options. They see the program as too important and the need of students too great to give up on.

"I'm excited about Destination College! because it's evolving," Barrett says, "We're finding out that people really want to rally around this and think about this in the bigger picture. I want to make this an annual event or make this something that we can incorporate into the school system as well."

If you are interested in hearing more about this program or the Center for Educational Collaboration visit http://www.buffalo.edu/pk16 or email tb29@buffalo.edu.